There’s no getting away from it: cameras are expensive. While it’s possible to buy a very basic DSLR, body only, for under £300, in general a decent camera and lens is going to be closer to the £500 mark. If you’re looking to upgrade to a more advanced model that’s aimed squarely at enthusiasts, you can probably double that. These are significant sums at the best of times, and right now, we’re not living in the best of times.

We’ve chosen a great camera from each brand for £500 or so, and four lenses to go with it

Thankfully, though, it’s possible to save a significant amount of money by buying used kit. In this article, we set out to answer a simple question. Instead of spending that £500 on an entry-level camera, what could you get by buying second-hand? The aim was to choose an older model from each of the major camera brands that would once have been close to the top of the range, with a correspondingly high build quality, feature set and performance.

If you go back a generation or two, to cameras introduced four or more years ago, it turns out that you can indeed get enthusiast-level features and build for the price of a new entry-level camera. So we’ve picked out a set of high-quality cameras that you can now buy used in excellent condition for around £500 (and a couple are considerably less). We’ve then recommended a set of four lenses that should complement each camera nicely.

You could, in fact, probably buy these cameras rather cheaper, if you’re prepared to take a risk on peer-to-peer sites such as eBay. But a risk it certainly is, and you’ll get peace of mind from buying from a reputable, specialist retailer. You can then be confident that the kit has been properly inspected and tested, and crucially is backed up by a proper returns policy if it turns out not to work as you’d like. Just be sure to check everything over as soon as you receive it.

What, no Pentax?
Sadly, we’ve had to make the difficult decision not to feature Pentax in depth. While it still has its dedicated followers, the brand’s popularity has dwindled and the supply of decent used digital kit is drying up. However for Pentax users looking to upgrade, we’d recommend the K-3; it’s a really fine DSLR with excellent image quality and an impressive feature set, and costs about £450 body-only. We’d pair it with the versatile, weather-sealed DA 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 WR zoom (£230), and look to add a set of the firm’s lovely Limited-series primes; perhaps the 15mm f/4 wideangle, 35mm f/2.8 Macro, and 70mm f/2.4 telephoto, for about £300 each. For those on a budget, the lightweight DA 50mm F1.8 and 35mm F2.4 both cost well under £100.

Best buy cameras and lenses: brand-by-brand guide

Fujfilm X-T2

* £459 excellent condition * £489 like new
It has been superseded twice in four years, yet the X-T2 remains a tempting secondhand buy for anyone who’d like a highly-capable mirrorless camera that blends classic styling with an admirable performance. What’s more, it’s become an affordable gateway to Fujifilm’s fine selection of X-mount lenses. The arrival of the newer X-T3 and X-T4 has seen the price of the X-T2 plummet to the point where it can now be snapped up for under £500 in excellent condition with only the lightest signs of use and all its original packaging. That’s quite a bargain for a camera that cost £1,399 when it was launched in 2016.

So what do you get for your money? The X-T2’s 24.3-million-pixel X-Trans CMOS III sensor partners with Fujifilm’s X-Processor Pro to deliver an ISO range of 200-12,800 (expandable to ISO 100-51,200). Attach the VPB-XT2 grip (£79 in used condition) and it’s possible to increase the burst speed from 8fps to 11fps using the mechanical shutter, or 14fps by employing the electronic shutter, which also lets you increase the fastest shutter speed from 1/8000sec to 1/32,000sec. You don’t get touchscreen control, but what you do get is a lovely joystick at the rear to precisely shift the AF point and navigate the menu. This is in addition to well laid out buttons across the body and knurled metal dials on the top plate that offer direct control of ISO, shutter speed and exposure compensation.

Advanced features include a clever tilt screen mechanism that lets you shoot from low and high angles in both landscape and portrait orientations, dual card slots and a hybrid autofocus system that can keep apace with speedy subjects when tracking and provides wide coverage across the frame. Users even get the option to fine tune how the camera reacts to the way a subject moves, how fast a subject moves and where in the frame the camera prioritises focus from the X-T2’s AF-C custom settings. Although no longer the latest model, the X-T2 is still considered a premium camera and is one that boasts a robust, hardwearing build quality and weather sealing.

It fits the average-sized hand well and it’s partly the feel, size and excellent ergonomics that has led to it being so well received by amateurs, enthusiasts as well as professionals. With regard to output, it produces stunning colour rendition straight out the camera and the quality of its JPEGs are sublime. You get Fujifilm’s fabulous film simulation modes too, albeit without the latest Eterna and Classic Negative additions. The X-T2’s exposure metering system rarely misjudges scenes and the detail the sensor resolves at high sensitivity settings remains impressive by today’s standards.

The X-T2 focuses well on subjects approaching head-on at high speed Fujifilm X-T2, XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR, 1/2700sec at f/5.6, ISO 400

Users will find they can confidently push to ISO 3200 and ISO 6400 in low light without fear of noise severely degrading image quality. Though the video specification, burst speed, battery life, buffer capacity and autofocus algorithms have improved on the X-T3 and X-T4, the X-T2 shouldn’t be overlooked. We’d highly recommend it to amateurs and enthusiasts working to a £500 budget who’d like to strike a fine balance between appealing aesthetics and practical performance. At the time of its release the X-T2 changed people’s perception of speed associated with mirrorless cameras. Today, it continues to encourage people to buy it for the amazing value it offers in excellent secondhand condition.

At a glance:
Sensor 24.3MP X-Trans CMOS III, 23.6 x 15.6mm
Sensitivity ISO 200-12,800; ISO 100-51,200 (extended)
Autofocus 325-point or 91-point hybrid AF
Continuous shooting Up to 14fps with VPB-XT2 booster
Video 4K up to 30p, Full HD up to 60p
Rear display 3in, 1.04m-dot tilting
Viewfinder 2.36m-dot electronic, 0.77x equivalent magnification

Four great lenses to consider

Fujifilm XF 18-55mm F2.8-4 R LM OIS (£249)
If your budget can’t stretch to the excellent Fujifilm XF 16-80mm f4 R OIS WR (£769) and you fancy a smaller standard zoom that covers a practical 35mm equivalent range of 27-84mm, this lens makes an excellent choice. It has picked up a reputation as one of the best examples of a kit zoom and unlike some kit lenses that are let down by poor build quality and mediocre sharpness, this example is quite the opposite. As well as delivering impressive sharpness, it focuses silently, is well constructed and features effective optical image stabilisation (OIS). Filters can be attached via a 58mm thread; it weighs 310g and has a 30cm minimum focus distance. You’ll find there is a healthy saving to be made choosing a secondhand example in excellent condition than buying it from new.

Fujifilm XC 35mm F2 (£139)
The XC 35mm f/2 is currently the cheapest lens you can buy for Fujifilm X-mount cameras. It inherits the same optics and nine diaphragm blades from its more expensive XF35mm F2 R WR cousin, with the key differences being it doesn’t feature weather resistance and lacks an aperture ring. Despite its plastic lens mount being more susceptible to wear and tear and it not being supplied with a hood, it’s a likeable prime that’ll fit the smallest of spaces in your bag. When we reviewed it earlier this year we said it’s a lens that allows images with an attractive shallow depth of field to be captured at low cost and produces optically identical results as the XF35mm F2 R WR. With it still being fairly new, used examples can be quite hard to find.

Fujifilm XF 50mm F2 R WR (£309)
Fujifilm offers a good selection of dinky f/2 primes for its X-series cameras and this one is up there as one of our favourites. Not only is it smaller than the stellar XF 56mm f1.2 R lens, it’s around half the weight and can save you around £400. It’s a lens that benefits from weather sealing, an internal stepping motor that improves autofocus lock-on speed while keeping operation near silent. The aperture ring offers lovely feedback when it’s rotated and it’s possible to attach screw-in filters and adapters via its 46mm thread. If you choose to buy an excellent secondhand example with clean and clear optics and no marks or scratches it’s possible to save yourself around £110 buying it from new. It was awarded AP’s recommended award when we reviewed it in 2017.

Fujifilm XF 16mm F2.8 R WR (£289)
Fujifilm users who’d like a wide-angle prime for their camera have a couple of options – there’s the sublime XF16mm F1.4 R WR and this more affordable and compact alternative. Equivalent to 24mm in 35mm terms, there’s a £420 saving to be made buying a used example of this lens over a similar used condition XF16mm F1.4 R WR. It left us thoroughly impressed when we reviewed it last year and in our verdict we said ‘those who’d like to keep their setup as light and compact as possible when travelling or heading out with a camera and single lens will love its petite size’.

Design-wise it’s alike to Fujifilm’s other small primes. Its aperture ring clicks through its range in 1/3-stop increments and the WR abbreviation in its name denotes it is a weather-sealed optic.Nikon D7200

* £479
When the Nikon D7200 was launched in 2015, it was the natural successor to the D7100. It slotted in between Nikon’s upper entry-level DSLR, the D5500 and the company’s full-frame DSLR, the D750. Though it wasn’t a radical upgrade on its predecessor, it became popular with enthusiasts who wanted a reliable workhorse that could compete against other impressive APS-C DSLRs, such as the Canon EOS 7D Mark II.

It was succeeded by the D7500 in 2017 and with many photographers choosing to upgrade or switch to mirrorless around this time, large numbers of D7200’s started to find their way onto the secondhand market. Today, used examples in good condition with a low shutter count of 15,000 frames can be snapped up from £465. This is less than half of what it cost to buy from new and represents good value for anyone who’d like to own a versatile DSLR. The D7200 is built around a 24.2MP CMOS sensor and EXPEED 4 image processor.

This combination provides a sensitivity range of ISO 100-25,600. It can be expanded to ISO 51,200 and ISO 102,000, however these settings record in black and white only. Whereas the D7100 had a measly buffer performance, the D7200’s is much improved, capable of recording 18 14-bit lossless compressed raw files and over 100 JPEGs at its maximum 6fps burst rate. Enter the D7200’s 1.3x crop mode and continuous shooting at 7fps is also possible. Elsewhere, the D7200 is equipped with a Multi-Cam 3500DX II autofocus system that provides 51 available AF points, 15 of which are the more sensitive cross-type.

All 51 points can focus down to -3EV and the AF array covers a large portion of the frame. The autofocus response is fairly hasty when shooting via the viewfinder, but ttthe same can’t be said in Live View, which it’s noticeably slower. Other features include a 1/8000sec maximum shutter speed, fixed 3.2in, 1.23m-dot rear screen, 2,016-pixel RGB metering sensor that’s used for subject tracking in AF-C mode, and Wi-Fi connectivity with NFC. Like other D7000 series cameras, the D7200 has an optical pentaprism viewfinder with 100% frame coverage.

A sample image of Chiddingstone Castle taken in the D7200’s standard picture style Nikon D7200, Nikkor AF-S 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, 1/800sec at f/5.6, ISO 100

In a few areas the D7200 has advantages over the newer D7500. As well as offering dual card slots for backup purposes (the D7500 only has one) it supports older manual focus NIIKKOR AI (non-CPU) lenses and can be used with Nikon’s MB-D15 battery grip that’ll set you back an extra £60 in used condition. A benefit of the D7200’s body size compared to smaller mirrorless cameras is its large battery that’s rated at 1,110 shots – more than enough to last a day of casual shooting. Its shell is made from magnesium alloy with a polycarbonate front, and the camera is dust and weather-sealed throughout to enable photographers to shoot in adverse conditions.

There’s a good number of physical controls spread across the body too, making it feel like a much more serious camera in the hand than Nikon’s entry-level DSLRs. Despite being five years old, the D7200 still produces lovely images and users will find they’re able to shoot up to ISO 6400 for less-critical purposes. If you happen to own an ageing entry-level DSLR and a selection of DX-format lenses, it makes a sensible upgrade. Equally, if you’re after a camera that’s enjoyable to use, reliable and easy to learn with, you’re likely to get great service out of a second-hand D7200.

At a glance:
* Sensor 24.2MP CMOS, 23.5 x 15.6mm
* Sensitivity ISO 100-25,600; ISO 100- 102,400 (extended)
* Autofocus 51-point phase detection
* Continuous shooting 6fps (7fps in 1.3x crop mode)
* Video Full HD up to 60p
* Rear display 3.2in, 1.23m-dot fixed
* Viewfinder Optical, 100% coverage, 0.63x equivalent magnification

Four great lenses to consider

Nikon AF-S 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR (£129)
If you don’t already own a DX-format lens and you’d like a versatile standard zoom that’ll cover most bases for travelling and times when you only want to carry a single lens, this example that was introduced with the Nikon D90 in 2008 can now be picked up reasonably on the second-hand market. Equivalent to 27-158mm in 35mm terms, it features VR (Vibration Reduction) and SWM (Silent Wave Motor) technologies, extra-low-dispersion and aspherical lens elements, as well as seven rounded diaphragm blades. It doesn’t have a robust metal lens mount and it’s not weather sealed, however it delivers a good optical performance for a kit zoom and it goes about its business of focusing silently. Users of filters and polarisers will be grateful for its internal focusing system, preventing its 67mm filter thread rotating during on focus.

Nikon AF-S 40mm f/2.8 G (£179)
Announced in 2011, this fine example of a consumer-grade lens for enthusiasts is both affordable and delivers a good optical performance for the price. It has a field of view equivalent to 60mm and is a true 1:1 macro lens, meaning that the size of the subject photographed is projected onto the sensor at the exact same size it is in real life. Nikon’s Silent Wave Motor (SWM) keeps focus operation quiet and the optical arrangement is made up of 9 elements in 7 groups with 7 aperture blades. It’s a compact lens that measures 64.5mm long, doesn’t add much weight (235g) to your setup and allows users to create flattering, defocused backgrounds at its maximum aperture, making it a good lens for portraits and other situations where you’d like to isolate your subject.

Tokina AT-X 11-20mm f/2.8 PRO (£349)
If you would like a wide-angle zoom with a fast maximum aperture at a reasonable price, this example is worth a look. It’s not quite as wide as Nikon’s AF-P 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6 G, but is robustly made for a lens for one that features a predominantly plastic construction. Tokina has made it a practical size without being too bulky and it benefits from an internal focusing mechanism and one-touch focus clutch mechanism that enables photographers to switch between AF and MF by snapping the focus ring forward for AF and back for manual focusing. It does exhibit vignetting, distortion and chromatic aberration, but this can be corrected during post-processing. Tamron’s 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5 Di II VC HLD (£279 in good used condition) is another alternative if you’d like your lens to be weather resistant and offer optical image stabilisation.Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.8 G (£109)
Pair this prime with an APS-C DSLR camera like the D7200 and you’ve got a fabulous combination that provides a 75mm effective field of view that’s well suited to capturing flattering portraits and attractive reportage-style images. Its maximum aperture lets you dial in faster shutter speeds than a standard kit lens when you’re challenged in low-light situations, plus it creates a lovely shallow depth of field that helps pick out subjects from their surroundings. Nail the focus and you’ll be enthralled by its sharpness, which it backs up with good contrast. It’s not opposed to vignetting at f/1.8, but corner shading quickly subsides as you stop down. The front element is recessed quite deep inside the lens making it a little harder to clean, so you may also want to buy a protective skylight filter with a 58mm thread.

See part two of our buyers guide to the best full-frame cameras under £500 here.